Ed Mead: There Are No Easy Answers For Estate Agents

Stoicism is not the art of standing in the freezing cold or accepting a slap in the face. Marcus Aurelius, quite possibly the wisest ruler of the largest empire the world has ever known and an early Stoic, said “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

He might have said it thousands of years ago but as a way to work out what the hell’s going on in our Industry at the moment, it’s as valid as ever.

So what are the obstacles?

Almost forty years ago when I started the challenges were no less, but easier to counter. Know your patch and assuming you had half a brain you could make a good living and it was considered a gentleman’s profession.

There was no need for ambition on an Aurelian level.

Mobile phones, floorplans etc. and, most importantly, the web all seemed like a good thing. The latter, obviously, has the biggest potential to change how we work but is still, for most agents, simply an advertising medium. As many are gathering – it’s not, and forms the biggest impediment to where they want to go, they’re just not sure how to get there.

Charlie Wright created CIELA – a forum for independent estate agents who aim of fighting online competitors. Source: CIELA

Spreading risk is something the Corporates do well, and as a response to what’s happening in the still nascent “online/hybrid” space it’s a shame that the huge, c. 80%, chunk of the market occupied by small independent companies is allowing itself to be divided and conquered.

The bewildering choice or technology, the inertia it induces and knowledge that one wrong move might put you out of business is paralysing and I’ve been consulting with some companies who, despite a pre-eminent position in their market, are clueless as to how to go forward.

Mead worked at London agent Douglas & Gordon for over 20 years

Why wouldn’t they be, they’re estate agents and don’t employ a CTO.

The corporates do and can trial ideas without risking their shirts. Their share prices might suffer but who’s to say they’re wrong.

I wish there was an easy answer to this but travelling the country talking to agents of all types about Viewber, has exposed me to the exigencies of both running and developing an estate agency business in an environment where massive advertising spends and opaque claims have started to change the public’s expectations of the house buying and selling process.

Some experts give the high street three years – a bit strong I reckon, and the public will ultimately judge the new breed’s success with their wallets, not their share price. They’ve got a way to go to convince me but are learning and have some great tech.

In a market where objective and verifiable stats are genuinely a nightmare to unpack I doff my cap to those, and I’ve met them and know what they are going to reveal shortly, who have taken the time to check some of these stats with a view to finding a level playing field for the consumer.

For the rest of us – the obstacle is the way.

Ed Mead is an independent property commentator and a Founder of Viewber – an online service that matches estate agents with viewing agents and local property experts.